One day I was playing basketball during my lunch break and got a phone call that changed my life…” Jeff, you need to leave immediately and go straight to the hospital…your 2-year-old niece has been hit by a car and it’s serious.” I remember the panic that ran through my body. My heart raced as I grabbed my keys—so many questions and no answers. By the time I reached the hospital, I took one look at my older sister (who was standing outside of the ER) and knew that my niece had died. Kara was gone. In 15 minutes, our lives had changed forever.
As information about the tragedy came in, it was more horrible than I’d imagined. My brother-in-law had accidentally backed over her while moving his trailer. My sister, along with my 5-year-old nephew, witnessed it.
That was twelve years ago, and our family still carries the scars of walking through this tragedy together. Though I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy, it is a part of a story that God has entrusted to us as a family. He ministered to us in very special ways during this time. You may have experienced something similar (or maybe something worse) but I write this to demonstrate that God can redeem, restore, and use really bad things in our lives to help us know Him more.
Though the Lord taught us much through this tragedy, I want to share 5 specific things:
- Theology matters. (Psalm 119:111)
Questions about God and His character are thrust to the forefront when tragedy strikes; Questions like “Where is God?” and “Why didn’t God stop this from happening?” I’ll never forget my sister’s words as she was troubled by bad theology spoken by friends and family…with tears in her eyes she said, “Please tell me the devil didn’t steal my baby from me!” She was hearing from them that “that old devil stole your baby away” …as if God had somehow fallen asleep at the wheel. I went home that night and compiled many Scriptures to help her navigate her grief and give her a true understanding of God, His character, and his ways.
- God’s presence is most potent in times of tragedy. (Psalm 23: 4, Mark 4:37-39)
I remember a strange supernatural peace that was present with us at the funeral home as we hugged friends who tried to comfort us...thinking, “Why are other people so despairing?” I remembered coming to the realization that God is an “ever present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He provided a peace that transcended understanding during this difficult time. Some would call this “shock”- but that is too simple of an explanation for the power that we felt to be able to comfort those who were visiting us.
- God speaks in little ways to remind us He loves us and is in control. (Psalm 73:26)
I will share one example (of many) that my sister relayed to me. My sister was having doubts as to whether she was a good mother to Kara, and even that “if she would have been a better one, she could have prevented this tragedy.” A few weeks after Kara’s death, she was cleaning my mom’s house to “give herself something to do”, when she “happened” on an e-mail that my mom had printed. This e-mail, from several months before, went on and on about what a great mother my sister is. It described several specific instances where my mom had noticed this about my sister. My sister cried as she read it, and said that it was as if God was whispering, “You see, I love you. You were a great mother.”
- God taught me the “Ministry of Presence”. (Proverbs 25:20, Gal. 6:2)
Words were not adequate to either give me comfort or express the magnitude of my grief during the first few days of our loss. But, I remember who came to the funeral- the friends who took time out of their “busy” schedules to grieve with me-it was very powerful and important. And years later, my brother-in-law told me that the one thing that meant the most to him during our time together was that I was present and by his side (touching my shoulder with his) during the most difficult parts of the first few days of our loss—no words, just presence.
- God gave me a special heart for others who go through similar tragedies. (2 Corinthians 1:4, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Since Kara’s death, God has used my experience with tragedy to comfort others who have experienced trauma. I feel a special calling to be there for others during hard times, and I am equipped to navigate the difficulties that come when tragedy strikes.
God never provided us clarity as to “why” this tragedy happened, but we felt God’s presence throughout it. We still treasure the many passages of scripture that God used to comfort us.
The following year, on Easter (I can’t make this stuff up), my sister gave birth to another baby girl, Jordyn Grace. Although we will always miss Kara, we treasure little Jordyn. When we look into her eyes, we are reminded of both the intense pain from the past and an amazing hope for the future. God is good—even when life (and death) doesn’t make sense.